Changing a String
One day, I was playing my violin when all of a sudden the pitch of my A string rapidly changed, as if my violin was tuning itself. At first, I thought it was the temperature changes. There had recently been some really weird weather in my neck of the woods, the kind where you get four seasons in one day and not in the right order. Violins are very sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, as well as prolonged exposure to extremes. Stretching the strings and playing with them for a while helps.
Seconds after I had drawn this conclusion, something sharp struck my finger. It tickled more than it stung, but it definitely got my attention. I looked down to see a small piece of wire sticking out of my A string. As I ran my finger over it, the string continued to unravel. I decided that if I was going to change my strings, I might as well take pictures of the process and write an article about it. Please excuse the terrible manicure.
Taking It to the Shop
If you are inexperienced at tuning your strings, you are probably not ready to attempt changing one. I played the violin for over ten years before I attempted to change my own string. Even for more advanced players, there is an advantage to taking the violin to the shop. As I mentioned in another article, if the technician or luthier breaks the string while trying to install it, they will simply pull out another and try again. On the other hand, stores usually do not give refunds for strings that you have installed or attempted to install on your instrument, so if you replace your own string, be aware that if you break it, you will be out the cost of the string and will have to buy a new one. There is no shame in taking your instrument to the shop, so don't let pride lead to overconfidence.
Changing Your Own String
It is extremely important to follow the instructions below. Read every step carefully before you begin. Otherwise, you may damage your instrument or the new string you are trying to install. If you must replace more than one string, do it one string at a time. Otherwise, you will have to reinstall your bridge and you risk collapsing your fingerboard and sound post.
Step 1: Remove the Mute
If there is a mute on your violin, remove it.
Step 2: Loosen the Fine Tuner
Loosen the fine tuner of the string you wish to replace. You do not want to remove the screw. As you turn the fine tuner to the left, there is a point where you will feel a sudden release of tension. When you find it, the fine tuner is loose enough.
Step 3: Loosen the Peg
Just as you did with the fine tuner, you want to leave the peg in its hole. You just want to unwind the string. When you reach the last loop on the peg, pull the string out of the hole.
Step 4: Remove the String
This might happen naturally when the string comes out of the peg. If not, pull the string out of the tailpiece. Pay attention to how it went in, because strings go on by reversing the steps you followed to take them off.
Step 5: Line Up the New String
Some strings have a metal ball at one end, while others have a loop or a knot instead. Both ends of the string are wrapped with thread. Insert the ball, loop, or knot into the tailpiece first and hold it in place with your finger.
Step 6: Insert the String Into the Peg
This will require very good lighting, especially if you are installing an A string, because the scroll casts a shadow into the peg box that can make it hard to find the hole in the peg. Thread the string into the hole as if you were threading a needle. Make sure it comes out the other side.
Step 7: Tighten the Peg
Turn the peg to wrap the string around it. While you tighten the peg, make sure the string falls into the appropriate notches in the nut and bridge. If the string has slipped out of the tailpiece, make sure you fix it while you still have some slack. Be gentle when tightening the string. It has to adjust to being stretched or else it will snap. Don't worry about tuning yet. You just need enough tension in the string to hold it in place.
Step 8: Tighten the fine tuner
Tighten the fine tuner just enough to return some tension to the string.
Repeat steps 1-8 for each string that needs to be replaced.
Step 9: Reinstall the Mute
Step 10: Tune the Violin
I included two videos below, neither of which are ideal. The first is very good and informative, but the woman has an accent and dialect that may be difficult for some to understand. The second is part of a long series of 2 - 4 minute videos that you can access on YouTube, and you have to watch all of them to get the full picture of how to replace a string. The man talks too long and generally rubs me the wrong way because he says "um" and touches his face too much. However, these did a better job of covering the basics than the other videos I could find, and they let you see demonstrations and get a second opinion rather than just taking my advise at face value.
Tuning Your New Strings
New strings need some time to adjust to the tension. Metal and synthetic-core strings will adjust within about twenty-four hours, while gut-core strings may take a week or so. If you over stretch the string, it will break. Avoid performing with an ensemble while you breaking in your new set of strings, if at all possible.
If you can avoid performing with others, you can tune the other strings down to your new string while it adjusts. Tune your strings in perfect fifths, but let the new string, rather than a tuner or pitch pipe, serve as a reference point. Sometimes a string will break during or right before a concert, which leaves you without any choice but to perform while that new string is still adjusting. In this case, let your orchestra director or fellow chamber/band members as the case may be know that you will probably not make it through the entire concert without stopping between pieces to retune your instrument. You can speed up the process by stretching your string. This involves pressing on the side of the string with your thumbs and sliding your fingers over the top of the string. Be very gentle and try not to overdo it. Too much stretching can break your strings.
On a side note, sometimes strings, especially the E, can use some stretching to warm them up long after they have been broken in. I often do a sort of quick one-handed stretch of the E string in late winter and early spring because I live in a temperate and very humid climate, which means lots of weather changes that stress the instrument. I also check my violin after my warmup to make sure it is still in tune before my performance, rehearsal, or practice session.
Have a beautiful and blessed day!
Courtney is part owner of Treble Strings. She teaches lessons both online and in her studio in Smithville, MO. To contact her, please email: email@example.com